The First Battle: The Mule vs. the Reavers
Whedon was nothing if not prepared going in. "Joss has it so completely formed on the page for you and in his mind," says Adam Baldwin, who plays mercenary Jayne. "We had two weeks of rehearsal before we started filming. We focused a lot on the main dialogue scenes early on, but we also focused on the mule chase scene, which we did on location. The weather cooperated and we were able to get all that stuff in. Once we got to the studio, we were home free. It felt like we were right back workshopping our little TV show on these giant Universal soundstages."
That chase scene, involving the "Serenity" crew and a ship of cannibalistic Reavers, was the responsibility of Loni Peristere, the visual effects supervisor and second unit director on the film. "They're in a hovercraft, being chased down by a scary-looking Reaver ship that's firing sawblades and harpoons," describes Peristere, a self-proclaimed "graduate of Joss Whedon University." He worked with the director on "Buffy," "Angel" and "Firefly" and is now a partner at Zoic Studios, a visual effects house.
"On a big budget feature we'd use a lot of green screen and digital doubles, but we didn't have that kind of money on this movie," notes Peristere. "So we found a way to photograph it and use as little digital effects as we could and still make the sequence feel contemporary, interesting and fast-paced. We engineered a rig that could suspend the flying craft 15 feet adjacent to a tow vehicle. We had two giant steel arms that we floated the hovercraft on so that it could be suspended over real terrain and towed safely up to 45 miles an hour," he explains.
Set dressers brought in trees and brush to cover the highway ledge, and cameras were mounted on the tow rig and a following car to capture the sequence. "That was the most fun I've had working in my entire life," says Baldwin of the scene, which required some post-production effects work.
"We had to match and replace the road and terrain and the rest of the world that you see when you widen the lens," says Peristere. "We took detailed measurements of the road and replaced that road with a computer generated terrain system that used elements from the scene to mimic what was on the screen. We photographed the plants, made them in 3-D and we imported them into our terrain program. Then, for 99.9 percent of the shots that feature the Reaver ship that did not have actors hanging out the windows, we put that entirely in 3-D."
The battles in "Serenity" get bigger as the movie goes on. Read on to learn about how the effects team made ten ships into fifty for the climactic last battle.